Lasith Malinga’s absence means Mumbai Indians’ ambition in CL T20 is up in smoke

Blog by: Sougat

Lasith Malinga

Lasith Malinga

Sri Lankan pacer Lasith Malinga is almost certain to miss this edition of the Champions League Twenty20 and his national team’s tour to Zimbabwe in October due to pressing family commitments.

The official reason for his decision is that his wife is due to give birth to their second child at around the same time that reigning IPL champions Mumbai Indians open their campaign for a second CLT20 crown.  While Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) hasn’t yet approved his request, the IPL franchise is in all likelihood give him the permission to miss this year’s CL T20.

In monetary terms, by choosing to leave and miss the entire CLT20, Malinga will have to forfeit 20% of his IPL salary, along with his match fees. This may not be the worst symptom of the Sri Lankan’s decision.

The bigger problem is that Mumbai Indians. the RIL-owned franchise, may face some hurdles on their quest to retain the championship they won in 2011. For starters, their death bowling might go for a toss, especially since Malinga has the habit of bowling perfect yorkers towards the end of the innings. Other sides, especially the BBL teams (Brisbane Heat and Perth Scorchers) will relish the opportunity of getting in those valuable 15-20 runs, perhaps more, if the slinger does not play at all.

The second aspect to consider is the pacer’s uncanny ability to deliver early strikes. Because he hails from the subcontinent, his knowledge of the pitches on offer is second to none. Whatever be the type of track, Malinga almost always gets you those one or two early wickets in order to put pressure on the opposition.

He has added a lot of variety into his bowling, and doesn’t rely on outright pace alone. That’s what makes him a dangerous customer in the shortest format: his ability to vary his length while maintaining a sharp and accurate line.

The third point to consider is Malinga’s new-found penchant for hitting sixes. He has a half-century to his name in both ODIs as well as Tests, so his batting is definitely not like that of a typical tailender. His partnership with skipper Angelo Mathews against Australia in 2010 was worth 132 runs – he scored 56 of them in just 48 balls, shocking the Aussies with his uninhibited shot-making. Not that he is successful in his batting endeavours often, but he can always be relied on to provide that occasional big hit – and those extra runs make a difference between a win, a loss and a tie.

The fourth and most crucial aspect is the psychological impact his presence creates on opposition batsmen. If you’re a rookie playing your first international game, and the wild-haired Lankan pacer is at the other end waiting to send down his thunderbolts, your primary emotion is fear – I may be exaggerating a bit here – of getting hurt.

You decide to take him on, and swing wildly at an innocuous delivery that you did not expect. The end result? Your stumps are shattered, or, if you do manage to connect with the ball, it lands safely in the hands of one of the fielders or the wicket keeper.

Much like Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee, Lasith’s bowling action and his run-up to the crease and his mere presence at the bowler’s end is enough to shatter any batsman’s confidence. Even the world’s best have found him difficult to get away when he is in a wicket-taking mood, though he has leaked runs if the batsman has attacked him from the word go.

Whatever be the eventual outcome – it is rumoured that there is a small chance of Malinga playing in the tournament – Mumbai Indians will sorely miss his services if he is absent. Mitchell Johnson alone cannot shoulder the pace burden, and with the wily Zaheer Khan returning to the Royal Challengers, other bowlers will have to step up.

Till then, it is best to keep a watchful eye and open ears.

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